Why Chinese Working Mothers Don’t Want More Babies

One leads a team at a financial firm and earns more than her husband. Another is pursuing her dream of becoming a civil servant. A third is a budding influencer who aspires to be the family breadwinner.

Each woman is raising one young child and doesn’t want another — no matter what their husbands say, or what incentives the Chinese government, worried about an aging population, is dangling.

Gone are the days of China’s one-child policy. At a recent political forum, President Xi Jinping urged women to take on greater familial responsibilities and “play their unique role in carrying forward the traditional virtues of the Chinese nation.”

These women see a different role for themselves. This generation was born into small families, with many girls growing up as only children — and getting opportunities that used to be given only to boys. Their own mothers, who didn’t have multiple children to care for, typically worked outside the home and set examples for their daughters to do the same.

“I must have my own career.”

Joyce Zhao, 29, Project manager

Joyce Zhao had worked for three years as a project manager at a small tech company in Beijing and was expecting a promotion. But when she became pregnant with her son, Ming, her prospects dimmed.

Her boss, a woman who had been advocating for her to be given a leadership role, left the team while Ms. Zhao was on a five-month maternity leave. When she returned to work, her new boss told her that she was behind and needed to work harder.

I was drowning in self-doubt, wondering whether having a child at this point in time was the wrong thing to do,” Ms. Zhao said.

But, she said, she never once thought about quitting her job and staying at home.

“I only have myself to rely on,” Ms. Zhao. “I must have my own career and not give it up for anything.”

A few months after Ming’s first birthday, Ms. Zhao, who is 29, decided to leave her company, and landed a job at one of the biggest tech companies in China.

Her husband would like a second child, but Ms. Zhao is not interested. Her days are already grueling enough. Her four-hour commute to work and long hours mean she gets home way past Ming’s bedtime. She rises at 6:30 a.m. to have one hour to herself to read and exercise, and one hour to play and have breakfast with her son.

After college, Ms. Zhao set aside her dream of becoming a civil servant to pursue a higher-paying job. Now, having checked off marriage and childbearing, she plans to study for the notoriously difficult civil servant exam.

“I divide my time, energy and money into different parts, saving the biggest part for myself, then the rest go to my parents, husband and son,” Ms. Zhao said. “I can’t let them take all of me.”

“I see no benefits to having two children.”

Guo Chunlei, 32, Influencer

Before Guo Chunlei got married, she worked at a bank in the eastern city of Hangzhou, making about $2,000 a month, decent by Chinese standards. Her parents bought her a small apartment and a car, so she spent most of her paycheck on beauty, fashion and traveling.

When she decided to have a baby in 2022, her husband and in-laws, who ran a booming family business in construction, encouraged her to switch to a less demanding job to have more time for the child. Ms. Guo agreed and joined a publicly traded company as an accountant. But the work was repetitive and unfulfilling, and she was earning only about a third of what she used to make.

The steep pay cut became a bigger and bigger problem. As her daughter, Tianyi, grew up, expenses began soaring. Early education classes alone ate up a third of her salary.

Seeking extra money, and a sense of purpose, Ms. Guo started a mom-influencer account on the lifestyle app Xiaohongshu last year. A post she composed about planning a traditional Chinese birthday party for her daughter got tens of thousands of views and opened the door to brand collaborations.

She now spends weekday evenings writing captions, editing photos and doing product research. Photo shoots with Tianyi in nearby parks have become a weekend family activity.

Ms. Guo’s account has amassed more than 10,000 followers and brings in more money from product sponsorships than her day job. She’s considering becoming an influencer full time, and would like to take over as her family’s main provider.

Ms. Guo recalls her own parents sacrificing to provide for her and her younger brother. It made her determined to follow a different path.

“I see no benefits to having two children, for either myself or for Tianyi,” she said.

I want to make something of myself.”

Tang Pingjuan, 36, Financial manager

Like many working women in China today, Tang Pingjuan, 36, has higher expectations than did many of the women who came before her.

Growing up under the old one-child policy, she got the undivided attention of her father, a train driver, and her mother, a teacher, she recalls. And like many girls in her generation, she was given opportunities that had once been reserved for boys.

When it came time to attend college, Ms. Tang went hundreds of miles away from home to pursue a degree in mathematics, a field dominated by men. (Nearly a third of Chinese women have college degrees now, up from fewer than 1 percent in 1990.)

After graduating, Ms. Tang landed a job in finance and then, at age 25, took a year off and used her savings to travel to more than a dozen countries. Now 36, she leads a team at a private financial company in Guangzhou, the bustling metropolis where she lives with her husband and 4-year-old daughter, Ning.

Ms. Tang earns more than her husband and makes investment decisions for the family.

Six months after Ning was born, Ms. Tang returned to her office, leaving the baby in the care of a grandmother. On weekends, the family likes splurging on “staycations” at luxury hotels.

Lately, she has been considering a promising job opportunity in the nearby city of Shenzhen, which could mean being separated from her family. Her husband and in-laws oppose the move, but Ms. Tang doesn’t want to be held back. She has not ruled out a second child altogether, she said, but it is not something she is considering now.

“I feel selfish for putting myself before my family, but life is long and I want to make something of myself,” she said.

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